Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey has many feathers in his cap: builder, TV show host, lecturer, and writer. Ask him about which he thinks defines him the most and he has an interesting answer. Maybe one that many people can identify with.
“I wish I knew! As a cold corpse in my coffin, I’ll probably still be wondering: Who exactly was I?”
Known for his own, unique brand of comedy, Ashok Ferrey weaves it strikingly through his stories. He believes that the humour is an inverse reflection of something deep within him. This – though he does not quite agree – helps him deal with the issues with the ease that is typical of him.
“Humour is the common thread that runs through all my books. And like most humorists, I think there is a cold bleak wind blowing through the empty spaces of my soul. As for ease of dealing with issues, I’m not sure I find it that easy. Having only started writing in my forties, perhaps I have more than most that I can dig up from within me.”
While his first book, Colpetty People and his last-released book, The Professional are different in plot lines and pace, they do have one similarity.
“They both have elements of zany comedy – the sort of humour I am best known for. But Colpetty People begins to fizz almost immediately, whereas The Professional is more of a slow burn.”
Ferrey’s first book, Colpetty People, released way back in 2005. People, especially in Sri Lanka loved it. His bibliography has since expanded spectacularly but he admits to having been “scolded” by readers.
“When Colpetty People first came out, people here loved it because I think it mirrored fairly faithfully the perception we had of ourselves. Since then I’ve been scolded by quite a few readers for not sticking to that same ‘successful’ formula in subsequent books. But you can’t keep running in the same place; you have a duty towards yourself to go where your heart takes you.”
Ferrey does have a book he’s written that’s closest to his heart, though. And it has as good a reason as many of us choosing favourite books.
“The Professional,” he says. “It reaches into the deep dark places of the hero’s heart.”
Ashok Ferrey hails from an island country that according to him doesn’t take writers and writing very seriously. They have a rather easygoing temperament to writers and a lack of will to expand. Asked about how easy it is to get published in Sri Lanka, Ferrey elucidates:
“Not easy! Sri Lanka being rather a laid-back tropical island, we have a very relaxed – dare I say complacent – attitude towards our writers and writing. We have very definite ideas about who we are and where we stand; there is not much room for expansion, or pushing the boundaries out. We are not particularly concerned or aware of the big bad world outside.”
As an author, it is important to write compelling stories but Ashok Ferrey tells us why participation in global literary events is equally important.
“Being essentially a nobody in a very small pond means that it is imperative to appear at lit events outside your country. At the last Lahore Lit Fest, I remember saying that nowadays it is no longer enough for a writer to write. He needs to be a performing monkey too. There were two publishers on that panel with me. You can imagine they weren’t too pleased.”
Sri Lankan media loves writers, but Ashok condenses the ups and downs of being a popular author into just a few anecdotes.
“Oh, they (the Sri Lanka media) love us! But writers are thin on the ground here, so they expect us to be up for anything, anytime, anywhere. In my day I’ve conducted spelling bees, staggered and wheezed my way through countless charity fun runs (fun for whom?) and even been the stand-up comic at various rather racy drag shows. Once I was invited to give a workshop on writing novels at a regional school; when I got there I found the participants were – I kid you not – 4 years old, barely out of their nappies! Another time, a breathless and rather over-enthusiastic advertising executive called to ask if I would please consider being the Face of Pond’s. ‘You mean pond scum?’ I replied.
The press of course loves all this because it provides them with glorious photo-ops. But then, when your picture appears too often in the papers, they are the first to say, ‘Oh, he’s cheap. He’ll go to the opening of an envelope.”
While many authors are quick to dole out their inspiration behind writing, Ashok Ferrey has a different, wackier mantra. Asked about his inspiration behind the bestsellers, he says:
“Nobody in particular. Writing is a sort of indigestion, a sort of alien creature that grows inside you, making you more and more uncomfortable, till one day you just have to vomit it out. Does that sound terrible? It probably does, but it’s true!”
Ashok Ferrey and The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons
Ferrey’s latest book The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons will hit bookshelves late this year. With Ferrey’s signature humour and published by Penguin Random House, The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons is sure to become a bestseller when it releases around Christmas this year. Ashok tells us a little about his latest:
“It (The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons) attempts to deal with the now rather old-fashioned concept of evil. At the same time it is a love story. And there are lots of funny characters too!”
Advice for aspiring authors
As a parting thought, Ashok Ferrey has a solid piece of advice for aspiring authors in a very style that’s very Ashok Ferrey.
“Be brave. Throw your self-consciousness to the winds. Don’t be afraid that others will judge you badly (easier said than done in South Asia). Remember that if this idiot (I mean me!) can do it, any idiot can!”
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